Drink Whiskey, Look at Stars, Make Maple Syrup

The air smelled like maple syrup. Every time I stepped out of the house, or got out of the car, or returned from a hike in the woods, I smelled it. It doesn’t smell like when you hover your nose over a plastic jug of grocery store syrup.

Our maple syrup!!!! All told, we made 3.5 gallons.

It’s not saccharine and plasticized. It doesn’t even smell like the “real Vermont maple syrup” we used to buy at farm stands while driving back home to Boston. It smells smoky, earthy, and only kind of sweet. This is what our homestead smelled like last month. It’s a smell that I can’t forget because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever smelled, but at the same time, it’s a reassuring, nostalgic smell.

Last month, we made maple syrup. Last month, we solidified a piece of our identity we didn’t even know was missing. There are few things more gratifying than making food from our land. Doing so satisfies an instinctual desire to provide for ourselves and to develop a symbiotic relationship with nature.

We’ve only lived here for three years and so we’re still very much in the infancy of our homesteading capabilities and making maple syrup was a goal we had on a pedestal.

Why Maple Syrup? And Why This Year?

My inexpert observation of the evaporator

There’s no good reason, no one reason, why we started sugaring this year. We didn’t have more time or more knowledge. We just wanted to and so, we did.

So many of our “farming” efforts follow that path. If we waited until we had expanses of free time (or even just time, full stop) or until we’d read EVERY book and internet article on homesteading, we’d never do anything. Mr. Frugalwoods and I have the freedom to fail at homesteading, which is probably why we’re so comfortable doing it.

Since we both work from home (on the ol’ internet) and are financially independent, we have the freedom to not need to earn money from homesteading.

Good thing since we do quite the reverse. We’re also not trying to impress anyone, prove ourselves, or look glamorous while doing it (although, I mean, check out Mr. FW’s sweet snowpant overalls… ).

Those facts remove the pressure and anxiety that used to prevent me from getting started. This whole idea of just waking up and doing stuff dawned on me soon after moving here.

Told you his snowpant overalls are rocking

I realized that, in my past urban-office-worker life, I rarely did things I didn’t already know how to do.

There wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity for me to try new stuff or fail or learn because my life was straightforward and prescribed. Plus, I didn’t have any kids yet… if you want to start failing at stuff ASAP, have kids! But I digress.

I love to tell you about our homesteading adventures because they are so imprecise and haphazard. I love that I get to do things I’ve never done before and that I usually don’t know how to do until I do them. I didn’t know how maple syrup was made until we started making it.

So this post isn’t a how-to because I am not qualified to write a how-to. This post isn’t entirely gaffe-filled either, because we did succeed in making some syrup (amid, admittedly, many gaffes). This post is a relaying of how we did something new. How we felt. How it smelled. Why we’re here.

Brief Interlude On How To Make Maple Syrup

If you too would like to make syrup, and/or wish to see lots of photos of sugar maple trees, I have two previous posts detailing the prep work and the process of tapping our maple trees and collecting the maple sap:

Our Vermont Evaporator Company Evaporator

Our Sapling Evaporator

We are the proud owners of a Sapling Evaporator gifted to us by Kate, the co-founder (along with her husband) of the Vermont Evaporator Company. Try not to be too shocked that someone thought I was “homesteady” enough to gift an evaporator to. Yep, that’s me, homestead Liz (all my friends who are actual farmers think this is pretty hilarious. Thanks, guys).

In the interest of full disclosure, Kate gave us this evaporator for free in exchange for me writing about using it. However, we’re under no obligation to say only good things about it, so I’ll give you an honest review of our experience with the Sapling (TLDR: it’s awesome! Highly recommend!).

So what’s an evaporator? It’s a barrel that burns wood in an enclosed chamber to heat sap (which you pour into pans on top) in order to boil the sap down into syrup. See photo at right!  In addition to using the Sapling to boil down syrup, it’s designed to convert into smokers and grills for all your smoking and grilling food prep needs. Hence, it’s a three-for-one machine! We haven’t tested out the smoking and grilling mechanism yet, but we should.

You can boil sap down without an evaporator, but it’s a lot easier to do so with an evaporator. Of course, I’ve never tried to make syrup without an evaporator, so what do I know?! This size of evaporator is ideal for the “backyard sugarer,” which I learned is what we are, in technical terms. A commercial sugarer taps many hundreds or thousands of trees and makes many hundreds or thousands of gallons of syrup, which they sell to hundreds or hopefully thousands of people. We, the backyard sugarers, make enough for our own household consumption and try not to set ourselves on fire in the process.

Kidwoods on evaporator duty

Since this was our first year making syrup, I won’t even PRETEND to be qualified to teach you how to make it. If you want to know, read an expert’s account. Lucky for us, Kate (co-founder of the Vermont Evaporator Company) has many excellent write-ups on the topic. Hooray!

If you want to understand the basics so as to better enjoy this post-by-a-neophyte, here’s how you make maple syrup:

  1. Tap sugar maple trees
  2. Collect the tree sap
  3. Boil the tree sap on an evaporator until it becomes maple syrup
  4. Can the syrup in glass canning jars to make it shelf stable
  5. Eat the syrup

There are roughly 8,639 other steps interspersed in there, so make sure to consult a professional before embarking on your own backyard sugaring adventure.

Here’s the equipment we used in this stage of the sugaring process:

  • Evaporator
  • Ladle
  • Firewood
  • Digital kitchen thermometer
  • Timer
  • Large cooking pot
  • Propane-fired turkey fryer
  • Glass canning jars

13 Things We Learned During Our First Season of Maple Sugaring

1) If you have a decent slope on your land, tubing is an amazing labor saver.

Close-up of a tap and tubing

We used tubes to collect our maple sap, as opposed to buckets, which worked out even better than we expected. The sap flowed down the tubes into our 275 gallon collection tank, where it politely waited for us to get around to boiling it.

We let the sap sit there for as long as 14 days with nary a repercussion (the storage tank was buried in snow at the time). We didn’t have time to boil every day and it’s also not efficient to do so. We wanted to wait until our storage tank had enough sap to keep the evaporator burning all day long.

There’s a 100% chance we would’ve failed to make a drop of syrup if we’d had to collect buckets from trees every day. As with most things, knowing thyself is the most important first step. And I know that myself doesn’t have the time to collect buckets. Myself also does not want to collect buckets with a toddler in tow and a baby on my back. No thanks, says myself.

2) Don’t put your taps and tubes up in the deep snow.

In our naïveté, coupled with our lack of time, we didn’t get our taps and tubes in before the first snowfall. To be fair, the first snowfall was in early November, so we didn’t have much of a chance. To also be fair, I’ve been using that early snowfall as the excuse for everything we didn’t get done last fall: cleaning up the garden, splitting more firewood, starting a new exercise regime, vacuuming the basement… really it all goes back to that early snow.

Mr. FW putting in the tubing system

This is how we found ourselves in snowshoes, trying to summit respectably-sized snow hills in order to tap and tube the trees. Not easy, but doable. What we didn’t take into account was how much farther the taps would be from the ground once the snow melted… Yep.

Mr. FW predicted this situation and intentionally knelt down to tap the trees. It looked like he was tapping them super low, but since we were atop 45 feet of snow, when that snow melted, those taps were suddenly WAY up high on those tree trunks.

Mr. Frugalwoods (who is 6’2″) had to get up on tippy toes–and very nearly needed to use a ladder–in order to take the taps out of the trees at the end of the season.

3) You need more firewood for the evaporator than you think. Waaaaaaaay more.

However much firewood you think you need, go ahead and double it. Maybe triple it. Wood is used to fire the evaporator (it is, after all, a wood-burning evaporator) and we ran out of wood LONG before we ran out of maple sap. If we’ve had enough firewood on hand, we could’ve made double the amount of syrup. Maybe triple.

Kidwoods peering into the sap storage container

As you know, too much a great deal of my writing is devoted to wood: burning it for heat, harvesting it from our forest, the BTUs of aforementioned wood, the storage, toting, and maintenance of said wood, and of course, my woodworking husband, Mr. Frugalwoods. In light of my excessive narratives on wood, please avail yourself of any (or all) of the below posts for more on how we burn wood to heat our home and the need for wood to fire an evaporator.

Now please allow me to quote myself from this post:

The wood we burn in our woodstove (which heats our entire house) is high BTU hardwood. This is wood that burns slowly and efficiently, which is exactly what you want in a woodstove. Conversely, the wood you want for boiling down maple sap in an evaporator is–wait for it–SOFT WOOD, which has a low BTU. Your mind is blown, am I right? Soft wood burns more easily and more quickly, which is terrible for trying to heat a home, but fantastic for boiling down some good old tree sap.

Based on this, and the fact that its for next winter’s heating, we didn’t want to use our house wood for our maple syrup evaporator. And we woefully underestimated how much wood we’d need for the syrup. To give you a sense of just how much wood we needed for the evaporator, we burned through 3/4 to one cord of wood to make 3.5 gallons of syrup. For reference, we burn THREE CORDS TOTAL to heat our entire home for the ENTIRE WINTER (which lasts 11.5 months here in Vermont). Wondering what a cord of wood is? Fear not, I have a post about it. This is such a great illustration of the power of an efficient woodstove and the importance of knowing your wood BTUs (don’t worry guys, I have a post on BTUs).

Boiling sap after dark

We’re going to aim to have three cords of wood put up for next year’s sugaring season. Pending another early snowfall, which I will 100% blame. Again.

4) Cutting down tress for firewood WHILE sugaring does work, but is not recommended for ease of operations or sanity.

Nope, not done talking about wood. Realizing that the weak link in our sugaring operation was our shortage of firewood, Mr. FW set about felling, bucking, skidding, and splitting standing dead pine trees (soft wood) after we’d started collecting sap.

This is not a good idea; don’t do this. I mean, it works, but it’s difficult to split wood to order. It’s really something you want to do ahead of time.

Fortunately (or not actually fortunately, but only in this instance), we have quite a few standing dead white pines, which meant the wood was already mostly dried out and ready to be burned (not a good idea to burn fresh, green wood).

5) When they tell you to split the firewood for the evaporator really thin, they are not kidding.

Toddler wood hauling

You should know by now that anything I write about the homestead will contain AT MINIMUM three discrete points dedicated to wood. Mr. FW initially split the wood to roughly the size of his forearm.

Turns out, the wood needs to be split to the size of one’s wrist. The thinner the wood, the faster the fire recovers after you add additional wood.

Thinly split wood helps keep the boil. And keeping the boil helps the sap boil down into syrup faster.

6) The great thing about thinly split wood is that…

It doesn’t weigh very much and so, a stubborn three-year-old can help tote wood for the fire.

Not like, very effectively or anything, but she was hauling that wood around, and around, and around…

7) There’s a role for the flame weeder.

The first morning of running the evaporator, Mr. FW started the fire from kindling. As you know if you’ve ever built a fire, this takes a long time.

Ever on the prowl for opportunities to flame torch stuff efficiencies, he then started the fire with the flame weeder (affiliate link). Not only did this save circa 30 minutes of fire building time, it provided yet another justification for why we own and operate a glorified–and glorious–flame torch.

8) Making syrup takes a LONG time and a LOT of maple sap.

Mr. FW: in his element with the evaporator

Like, a REALLY long time and a HUGE amount of sap. The ratio of raw maple sap to finished maple syrup is 40:1 on the low end and 60:1 on the high end. This means it takes at least 40 gallons (yes, FORTY) of sap to boil down to one single gallon (yes, ONE) of maple syrup. And now you understand why real maple syrup is so expensive.

All told, Mr. FW spent at least four full days (as in, 7am – 8pm) tending the evaporator and boiled at least 140 gallons of sap to yield 3.5 gallons of finished maple syrup. With such tremendous inputs for such abbreviated results, why do it? Because…

9) Boiling sap is a TON of fun.

This is as reported by Mr. Frugalwoods, who was the one out there running the evaporator alllllll day and alllllll evening. Here’s his direct quote:

The actual process of running the evaporator was VERY enjoyable. The first day of trying to figure it all out was hectic, but once I understood what was going on and had a feel for all of the variables, it was relaxing to sit outside listening to classical music, book in hand, with a timer set to remind me to add wood to the evaporator every seven minutes in order to maintain a rolling boil.

For maximum sap reduction, you’ve got to maintain a serious boil, not a tepid, piddly boil. A boil with a capital B. The kids and I popped outside sporadically to observe, but it is too long, too dangerous and too boring (from a toddler perspective) an activity for a baby and a toddler to remain immersed for a full day.

10) Finishing the syrup on propane totally worked.

Mr. FW and Kidwoods assessing the turkey fryer set-up

Mr. FW couldn’t get the syrup to finish on the evaporator, which he says could’ve been either his lack of skill and/or his lack of time.

Two years ago, we bought a propane turkey fryer at a garage sale for some ridiculously low price on the not-so-ridiculous assumption that one day we’d need it to finish off maple syrup. That ridiculously cheap turkey fryer has been collecting a ridiculous amount of dust in our barn, just waiting for its moment. Turns out, its moment was now.

Mr. FW drained a day’s worth of boiled-down sap from the evaporator pans into the turkey fryer pot (which is like a large stew pot) and finished it on the propane burner for about 45 minutes. There are several different ways to know when your bucket of boiling sap has officially transmuted into syrup:

  • By temperature: when the temperature of the sap hits seven degrees over the boiling point of water.
  • By bubble formation: when the bubbles get tiny and numerous. This was impossible for us to determine the first time we did it, but in subsequent boils, the bubble formation was consistent with the temperature change.
  • By how it sheets off a spoon: you are also supposed to be able to tell based upon how it sheets off of a spoon, but we never got it to do that.

11) A sap container is delightful for a toddler to perch on.

Kidwoods perched on the sap storage container

As I shared on Instagram, Kidwoods discovered she could perch on top of the 275 gallon maple sap storage tank and–best of all–that there’s an echo when you yell down through the opening.

After sticking her head in to investigate, she popped up and reported, “don’t worry, I won’t drop a shoe in there.” Oh good. Of all the things I thought she might do, dropping a shoe inside actually had not occurred to me. Most of my parenting fails are, indeed, failures of imagination.

The best, the very best of this moment, was sneaking up on Mr. FW and Kidwoods chuckling about sap storage echoes as the last of this season’s sap drained into the grass, remnants of the syrup we didn’t make (thanks to above point #3).

I had the baby on my back, we were about to head inside for baths, books, and bed. It was the golden hour: both kids were basking in post-dinner glee, both parents were finished with work for the day, and warm breezes were circulating through the gardens. There are moments of bliss and this was one of them. Ok back to real life…

12) Canning syrup is super simple and sweet.

PANCAKE PARTAY!

After finishing the syrup outside over our garage sale turkey fryer, Mr. FW hauled the giant pot-o-syrup inside and we canned it with a hot canning method. Using our handy dandy food funnel, we poured syrup into quart-sized glass Mason jars, put on lids and rings, and turned the jars upside down, which makes them shelf stable (affiliate link). This was the one easy part of the entire process.

Pro tip: if you drip any syrup onto the kitchen floor, your toddler will scramble onto her belly and lick it up. Straight off the tile. Like a dog.

13) Our maple syrup tastes amazing.

Am I biased? Of course I’m freaking biased! I just outlined how my husband spent 6,789 hours making this stuff. IT IS NECTOR OF THE GODS. Hyperbole aside, it’s the best-tasting stuff ever.

We’re rationing our usage to make it last, which won’t be long if our kids keep asking for pancake parties, which is when we make homemade pancakes and eat them on our lawn…. and the baby rifles through the stack of pancakes and takes a tiny, five-toothed bite out of every one. Every single pancake. Baby teef marks.

To facilitate pouring the syrup from the Mason jars onto the pancakes, we bought this spout, which works surprisingly well as long as it is not operated by a toddler (affiliate link).

The Best Part Of Making Maple Syrup

Nighttime sugaring: me + vodka + snow bank

Those thirteen points were super nice and good, but the actual best part of our sugaring days were the nights.

After the sun went down, after I’d put both children to bed, after I’d released (some of) the tension of the day, I’d grab a bottle of caramel vodka (do not laugh, it’s DELICIOUS) and a bottle of whiskey (despite its deliciousness, Mr. FW disdains my caramel vodka).

I put on my boots, my coat, my hat, my mittens, and crunched over the snow to the evaporator. I found my husband tending the evaporator fire, classical music playing over our little transistor radio, logs crackling, and the night otherwise silent. I nestled the bottles into a snow bank (plenty of those to choose from in a Vermont winter) and inhaled.

Mr. FW wrapped his arms around me, engulfing me in a cloud of woodsmoke, maple, and the vibrancy of a person who spent the entire day outside.

We looked up at the sky and gasped. Our night skies aren’t merely dark–they’re pitch black. There are no traffic lights or street lights in our town, or in any of the surrounding towns.

There are no city lights or skyscrapers or airports. Everything is silent and dark. The stars are in charge and there are more of them than seems reasonable.

With our necks stretched up, my head resting on Mr. FW’s chest, his head resting on the collar of his coat, we traced constellations with mittened hands. We swiveled around to see the other half of the sky, taking sips of our snow-chilled drinks. We listened to the maple sap boil down, distilling our reasons for living out here.

Have you ever made maple syrup? What do you love about where you live?

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49 Responses

  1. Melissa says:

    That final story made me so terribly happy, in a sweet, heartache-y way. Thanks for making my morning. I’ll come back to that image often.

  2. Laura says:

    Love, love, love maple syrup and the smell when it is boiling. When I was a kid, our neighbour made syrup – he had a homemade evaporator built into a wood shed. I would just go sit there for hours, listening to the old farmers and sitting in the warm smoky shed. My cousin now makes syrup, so we make a point of helping out a couple of days every spring.

  3. What an incredible experience! I love how Kidwoods was able to “help.” I recall those younger years and the patience it took to allow that when you were focused on getting a job done so props to you! I don’t know about maple syrup, but those nights sound perfect. I love mountain adventures to get away from the lights and sounds of the city and remember what the night skies are supposed to look like and the real sounds of nature; so energizing and peaceful all combined in a snuggly little package!

  4. Ginny says:

    My 95 year old mom often reminisces about her dad working a neighbor’s sugar camp during the Depression and taking his pay in syrup. She said that seeing those bright tins of maple syrup lined up on the kitchen floor (their only sweetener) was a “rich” feeling. BTW, is that cute beige coat the one you found beside the road years ago? I love it when folks are truly frugal!!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you for sharing that story of your mom’s experiences! And yes, that is indeed the coat I found on the side of the road years ago! It’s a great coat 🙂

  5. Oh, Liz, just beautiful. You painted the scene so vividly it brought tears to my eyes. Stuff of life, right there. Also, I will never take maple syrup for granted again! I am always blown away when hearing about how much work it takes to make. Mr. ThreeYear is bringing us a fresh gallon back from New Hampshire today, and it’s worth every precious penny he paid. Happy Spring!

  6. Terri Ann says:

    We are new Vermonters – moved up in January – and sugaring was one of those things that we weren’t planning to do this first winter but I am so glad that we did! From our property, we got a total of about 3 gallons of syrup and it is the best syrup I’ve ever tasted. Reading your post I am a little nostalgic of that time – even though it was really was only a few weeks ago! The smell is something else for sure, we finished our batches inside and it smelled like sweet popcorn in the kitchen whenever we did.

    My question for you though – did you float your booze on the syrup in shot form? A friend who moved up here a decade ago and worked at large sugaring operations stopped by most nights we had the evaporator ripping and introduced us to floating our favorite booze over a smidge of fresh syrup and taking a shot. I do not care for the whiskey we had on-hand but a little syrup changes the whole thing and I can only imagine that caramel vodka would have been great for it too!

  7. Rae Elizabeth Batig says:

    I grew up on a dairy farm in NE Ohio and we had a sugarbush. I can still, MANY years later bring back the smells of sugaring. Your post brought back wonderful memories!

  8. Walnut says:

    That caramel vodka mixes perfectly with Green Apple Izze soda for a summery drink.

  9. The last paragraph created exquisite visuals in my mind. I am more excited than ever to try some maple syrup.

  10. Laura9 says:

    I love the way you write…so genuine and engaging!

  11. Candace says:

    Oh my word, once of your most lyrical blogs. Loved it! Sad maple syrup making is not a thing in Texas.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much!!! I wanted to try something a little different with this post and I’m so glad you liked it 🙂

  12. Bonnie says:

    Do you drink caramel vodka straight?

  13. Welp, it’s official—now I want to try making my own maple syrup. Super loved this particular Month on the Homestead series, and I’m glad you got some particularly golden moments in there, amidst the usual crazy 🙂 I’ve noticed that some parenting stages for me to be kind of “golden,” and your post reminded me of some of mine. Sometimes they don’t last very long (only a week, sometimes), but right now, with a 4-year-old and an almost one-year-old, we’ve been able to have some pretty nice golden moments ourselves (on a more regular basis than was typical before). We’ll just enjoy them while they last!

  14. Valerie says:

    Excellent update, beautiful post. I feel as if a close friend shared her experiences with me. I adore your writing, my husband has been listening to me fangirl about you since 2014. I think I found you while googling clothing topics. You have changed my financial life. He more than tolerates my excitement over new posts; he pre-ordered your book for me for Christmas, listens to me when I quote phrases from you and discuss every case study including every mention-worthy comment, and sometimes, I find a tab opened on his phone with the latest post. A surprising discovery coming from a man who is himself a brilliant writer and philosopher with impressively high standards for the internet content he chooses to read with his scare free time. Thank you, Liz! I will be here for all of your upcoming content.

  15. Thom Wilson says:

    ……..sweet!

  16. Josie says:

    Living vicariously through this wonderful post. It was fascinating, funny and poignant.

  17. MB says:

    this is one the best things i have read in a long long time – very calming and soothing almost:

    “We looked up at the sky and gasped. Our night skies aren’t merely dark–they’re pitch black. There are no traffic lights or street lights in our town, or in any of the surrounding towns.

    There are no city lights or skyscrapers or airports. Everything is silent and dark. The stars are in charge and there are more of them than seems reasonable.”

  18. Noel says:

    That night sky and smoky stargazing are what it’s all about! That sounds incredible, and I have to tell you your posts make me want to homestead more and more. Sitting here in this office, under these fluorescents… My husband and I have discussed homestead and are saving for FIRE, but your posts make me actually consider it. Like take my community gardening to full-size! Now I’m just waiting to hear about you guys adding bee keeping into the mix haha 😉

  19. Dorothy says:

    The photos of Kidwoods are priceless. Her absorption in her task, working with her dad — skills, memories, possible paths for later life choices — priceless.

  20. Margaret says:

    This was such a beautiful post!
    Also, though I haven’t read every post on wood, when you talked about splitting it thinly, I remembered a trick I’d heard about using a tire. It sounds like you stand wood up inside the tire (snugly) and then you chop it all as thin as you please. I was wondering if that… 1)is something you’ve tried or 2) is a thing that actually works 3) makes no sense for reasons I hadn’t thought of. But 4, I guess, would be the desire to share the thrifty time saving tip in case it was some how helpful! Keep being awesome – Margaret

  21. AnnG says:

    The joy you and your entire family experienced in making maple syrup comes through so clearly in this post. Thank you for sharing.

  22. Marilyn says:

    Costco sells 34 ounces of pure maple syrup for $10.99! But it’s the experience of gathering and boiling the sap as a family that gives added value, I suppose, notwithstanding the ginormous outlay of cash. Frugality has its limits.

  23. PK says:

    I think the final part of your sappy story 😉 is the best part and quite likely the most beautiful thing you’ve ever posted. cheers!

  24. Margann34 says:

    Why not use a propane burner for the entire process?

    • Amy K says:

      Novelty, surface area and fuel cost. They have an evaporator, why not use it? The turkey fryer has a small surface area, so it doesn’t evaporate as easily as in the evaporator. And the Frugalwoods’ wood is “free”, vs. $15/tank for propane.

      We solely use propane. We bought a wider pan for our turkey fryer, and if I remember correctly used 2 tanks of propane for 1.5 gallons of syrup finished on the stove-top. Not having to get up every 7 minutes means my husband can sit there with his laptop and “telecommute” from our driveway while keeping an eye on the boiling sap.

  25. AKing says:

    What a lovely post, thanks so much for sharing!

  26. Nancy says:

    My Dad used to sugar…..right up the road from where you are now, and he had a sugarhouse and older equipment, of course. But the ambiance was so similar…..the radio, him sitting there watching the sap boil with a book in his hand, the indescribable smell…..aaaaah. Glorious! I miss those days and am glad you’re getting them. I hope someone local introduced you to sugar on snow? We’d have parties every year! Just the best!

  27. Victoria says:

    I love reading you. After not reading blogs for two weeks I picked you to start and I’m so glad I did. I honestly feel that I’d love spending time on the homestead with you and your family (the caramel vodka would just be a bonus 😀)

    Apart from my adoration I don’t think I can give much in return but shout if you need data protection advice!

  28. Sandra & the 2 Spaniels says:

    Best story ever! Now you two are getting to be “real” Vermonters! I love maple syrup and use it on everything needing sweetness.

  29. Dianne says:

    Such an enjoyable post. EVERY time I see a Frugalwoods email – I either jump right to it or wait until the evening when I can savor it! I’m happy that I savored this read. Nature has so much to offer, no amount of money or objects could even come close. This is what life it all about. The beauty in our world.

  30. Sherry says:

    You should think about having honeybees next year. Bees are fascinating to work with and the taste of honey from your local flowers is exquisite! I got 1.5 gallons of honey from one hive and didn’t take all of the honey that was in the hive (so would have had 2+ gallons of honey if I’d taken all of it).

  31. Michele says:

    I had forgotten that smell…. until you described it! Thank you for bringing back a wonderful memory!

    A former Northern NY’er happily living in Fl!

  32. dot says:

    wow what alot of work..Enjoy

  33. Danella on the Canadian west coast says:

    Love, love, love your writing! Thanks Liz! Great post!!

  34. BB says:

    What a great post. We have friends visiting from FL for Rolling Thunder in DC this weekend, having hauled the Harley up for the event (we’re in N. VA). The lady is from PA, and as I was reading excerpts to her from your blog post, she was remembering some sapping/sugaring/evaporating from her days growing up in PA. She also really likes the idea of the Caramel Vodka (neither of us had heard of that version of it before), and the idea of mixing it with the Izzy green apple soda. LOVE your posts, they are informational, humorous, and just downright enjoyable to read. Thank you!

  35. Sally says:

    I try in vain to describe the scent of maple sap boiling to my friends who have never experienced it. It envelopes everything and when you ride by a sugar house when they are boiling, you can smell it in the air. Love my home state of Vermont and I am so happy that you and your family have found a place here.

  36. Leslie says:

    Love this story, especially the end 🙂

  37. Laura says:

    Beautiful post. And that’s why FI makes our lives better – because we can choose what makes us happy. I just returned home (to Boston) from a weekend in rural Vermont, had never been to the area before but IMHO it is what all of America should be and I could see myself making this move with FI. And I picked up a gallon of maple syrup from a farmer’s market. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the stars (or smell the sugaring) but listening to a thunderstorm from our room was lovely too. Kudos to you & your family and keep writing! <3

  38. This was an exquisite post, filled with beautiful visuals that are particularly comforting for those of stuck in a big, stinky city!
    One lovely thing I’ve always loved to do with maple syrup: drizzle it into plain yogurt, leaving it streaky (not stirring in fully.) Ever since I was little, it’s been one of my most favourite things to eat. 🙂 Adding a few berries certainly doesn’t hurt either!

  39. Amy K says:

    “Have you ever made maple syrup?”

    Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes. It started in 2011 when our daughter was born. We came home from the hospital February 1st and I think we tapped the tree Feb 5th. We live near Lowell, 45 minutes outside of Boston, so syrup season starts early. That first year we had an official tap – a spile – from Agway and a random bucket from my college days that I think originally held study-break cookies. The ants found the bucket, so we had to filter on the way into the pot. Once or twice a day all through maternity leave I’d head out back to collect the bucket and pour it into the dutch oven on the stove-top to condense down. The syrup was light and sweet the first week, getting darker and more flavorful week by week to the “Grade B” we loved to buy at Trader Joe’s. IWe joked that we should have a vertical tasting but I don’t think we ever did. We pulled the tap when the buds opened, sad to see the sap trickle down the side of the tree but wise elders told us that it would not make good syrup. I think we made a gallon of syrup in total.

    The next year we bought a turkey fryer, a 5 gallon bucket with lid, some tubing, and re-purposed a 40 gallon Rubbermaid tote for storage in the shade. The tubing ran from the spile into the lidded 5 gallon bucket. Instead of every day, we now could go a day or two before pouring in to the tote. The tote was surrounded by snow and in the shade on the north side of the house. About once/week my husband worked from home for the day. He set up a folding chair, the turkey fryer, and the tote on the sunny driveway. Since we’re near Boston sunny 40 degree weekdays are easy to come by in February. When the sun started to set he moved operations inside and continued on the stove top – not all the way to syrup, but condensed enough to fit in the fridge in a quart mason jar. At the end of season a big boil to get everything to 66% sugar and can it.

    That has pretty much been the process every year since. We’ve purchased a wider pan for better evaporation, a glass hydrometer (which I broke), a digital hydrometer (which I refuse to touch for fear of breaking), several kinds of filter media from Leader Evaporator. We melted a tote last winter because it got too close to the turkey fryer burner. All in I’d say we’ve spent $200 on equipment/supplies over the 9 years, and used 2 tanks of propane each year at $12-$14/tank. We get just about a gallon and a half of syrup each year from our one, very vigorous tree. Yes, it would be cheaper at Costco. But it wouldn’t be as fulfilling.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Sounds wonderful! And you’re so right about the costs–totally cannot compare to the fulfillment and joy of making your own 🙂

      • Amy K says:

        My husband wanted you to know that we’ve also made maple wine and maple beer and are working on maple wine again this year. Golden and delicious!

  40. Kayla says:

    I loved this post! Beautiful story of living a rich life.

  41. Nora says:

    Beautiful story! <3 I love our friend's homemade syrup.

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